If it is warmer than 60 degrees outside, I want to be working in a garden. Thus, the weather this January has been hard on me. Every ounce of my being has demanded that I plant something, but, thankfully, I have resisted.
What I have accomplished, however, is a great deal of reading, planning, and preparing.
Every leaf that fell on my half-acre lot in the Fall has been collected in a series of compost heaps, one of which is getting special treatment—it’s getting all our kitchen scraps, an occasional batch of Donna Putney’s composted chicken manure, and constant turning. For me, composting is an especially urgent issue this year because my family moved to a new house over the summer and we will have to build an entirely new garden in a backyard that seems to have never produced a thing other than daffodils and mosquitoes. Oh, how I miss that old garden in the previous subdivision, which I built out of nothing but packed clay on that little lot that was almost wholly devoid of topsoil, trees and their leaves, and anything else that could be composted for the enrichment of our harvest.
One of my major realizations over the past several years is that one cannot really have an organic garden without a steady supply of organic manure. So, during this unseasonably warm winter I have constructed a hutch and procured rabbits—all girls named Snowy, Joe, and Dark Sky—and instructed them to manufacture all the manure they can muster, as quickly as possible.
More than anything, perhaps, I have tried to track what my family eats the most and figure out how I can produce more of those staples in our back yard. So far, this is what I think we need in the garden this summer:
In mass quantities (enough to store for the winter):
Herbs—basil, parsley, cilantro, thyme, rosemary
Summer squash of all varieties
In smaller amounts (things we’ll want to eat as they go but not preserve)
Cucumbers (I’ve made some great pickles in the past, but I predict that I’ll lack that patience this year)
Sweet peas (I’d love to grow enough to freeze, but, considering my kids and their appetite for these things, I think it would be virtually impossible to produce enough.)
Various lettuces, spinaches, and other leafy things
My planning is driven by what we eat the most, but it is also driven by how easy (or how hard) it is to procure the things we want. Tomatoes are a perfect example. First of all, I will confess—and I know it marks me as an oddball—I don’t like raw tomatoes. Cook them any which way and you will have to fight me off, but please do not ask me to eat a raw tomato. And cook them I do—all the time. I love the challenge of making good marinara (and if I had to choose one cuisine to eat the rest of my life it would be Italian); I love chili, which requires a tomato base; I am about to embark on a homemade ketchup experiment. I require a lot of tomatoes, and I have always loved the convenience and generally high quality of canned tomato product. One can even buy Muir Glen organic canned tomatoes in the Greenwood, SC Walmart, Sadly, however, those easy canned tomatoes are almost all packed in BPA-lined cans, and my family went BPA-free about three years ago (or so we thought). This summer, if everything goes according to plan, I’ll stuff the pantry with a year’s supply of jarred tomatoes that I grew in the back yard with the help of my wife, my kids, and my rabbits.